The name Charles M. Schulz is probably not familiar to everyone. But almost everyone knows his creations Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Sally, Linus and their many friends. They are "The Peanuts", a world-famous comic universe. The American Schulz would have had his 100th birthday on Saturday (November 26).
The word "peanuts" originally means "peanuts" or "little thing" in English. In the mid-20th century, however, it was a common word for children in the United States. "The Peanuts," which experienced a rise from comic strip and book series to TV series and movies, actually had a different name. When Minnesota-born Schulz published them in his hometown newspaper, the suburban kids were still called "Lil' Folks." Schulz was attached to the name. But when it was sold to a group, it became "Peanuts".
Enter Charlie Brown
On October 2, 1950, the first cartoon appeared in seven US newspapers, classically told in four rectangles. "Good old Charlie Brown," a little boy calls out to the passer-by in a supposedly benevolent way - only to blaspheme in the last picture: "How I hate him!"
By the time he died in Santa Rosa, California, in February 2000, Schulz had drawn almost 18,000 comic strips, which were printed in more than 2,600 newspapers worldwide and thus read by more than 355 million people in 75 countries.
Charlie Brown is the lovable loser and unlucky guy, with a round head and a ring of hair on his forehead. His philosophizing beagle Snoopy prefers to lie on the roof of his kennel. The little yellow bird Woodstock often buzzes around him. There's the bossy Lucy, Linus with the comforter, Beethoven fan Schroeder on the piano, the tomboy Peppermint Patty and the moody Sally.
100 percent Charles M. Schulz
Schulz drew every strip himself and thought up the story until his death. "He worked so hard on it," said Jean Schulz's widow in a dpa interview. "I used to think this would be easy, but now I realize how he struggled for every little sentence." She must know. The couple was married for 27 years until the cartoonist's death. Now she manages the huge "Peanuts" universe and ensures that this life's work continues to receive attention.
The widow proudly guides us through the Charles M. Schulz Museum, which opened in Santa Rosa in 2002. A replica studio shows the workplace where Schulz penned his characters for 50 years. Valuable original sketches, storyboards from films and the "Wrapped Snoopy House", a dog house wrapped by artist couple Christo and Jeanne-Claude, are among the attractions. From the ancestral gallery we learn that Schulz's father, a hairdresser, came from Stendal (Saxony-Anhalt), and that his mother had Norwegian roots. Significantly, Charlie Brown's father is also a hairdresser.
Schulz' widow also has a connection to Germany. She was born in Mannheim in 1939, her British parents had a language school there, but moved to California before the outbreak of war. As a young soldier, Charles Schulz was also stationed in Germany. Even then, the passionate draftsman decorated his field post with sketches.
"Sparky" remained down-to-earth and absorbed in his work to the end, despite global success and fortune, says the widow. She only calls him by his nickname, which an uncle gave him when he was a baby, after the horse Spark Plug from a popular comic at the time. Jean says he wouldn't have wanted a huge celebration for his 100th birthday if he were still alive.
The round anniversary is still celebrated. The US Post Office commemorates him with a special stamp, the museum with exhibitions, cake and a show in the neighboring ice skating rink that Schulz, an avid skater, built in the 1960s.
Schulz made Charlie Brown and Snoopy a piece of cultural heritage. They are available as comics, on screens, in cinemas, as branded items - and not just on Earth: in 1969, during the Apollo 10 space mission, the spacecraft had the call sign "Charlie Brown" and the lunar module was called "Snoopy". The artist has received Emmys, a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and a US Congressional Gold Medal.
The old "Peanuts" strips will continue to be printed, and there will also be new content involving the widow and five children from Schulz's first marriage. Last year, the streaming service Apple TV released a new animated series called "The Snoopy Show".
Why is the "Peanuts" gang still popular after so many years? "Sparky was about humanity, what it's like to have friends, fights, disappointments and joy," says Jean. He was also always very curious and picked up a lot. During the pandemic, I'm sure he would have wanted to learn all about it and put it into the comics. Schulz was also progressive. In 1968, shortly after the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, he introduced the black boy Franklin. A reader had encouraged him to do so.
The "Peanuts" characters are always struggling with the same problems - lovesickness, fears, frustration - that's what made them dear to many people. This is what happens to Charlie Brown every time Lucy snatches the football from under his nose: he sees himself as a loser, but he doesn't give up. Schulz had depression and anxiety, says his widow. "But he was lucky that he could laugh at something every day and that drawing brought him joy."
He didn't have a favorite character. He always said that all the characters had a little bit of him, says Jean. Lucy the sarcasm, Charlie Brown the stupidity and Snoopy the freedom spirit. "He had a cast that allowed him to express anything he wanted to say."
The 77-year-old died of cancer on February 12, 2000, just hours before the release of his final comic strip. In the final episode of "Peanuts," Charlie Brown is on the phone and says, "No, I think he's writing." The next picture shows Snoopy in his kennel in front of the typewriter. "Dear friends," it says, "I was lucky enough to be able to draw Charlie Brown and his friends for almost 50 years. That was the fulfillment of my childhood dreams". Now he is no longer able to do that. He said he was grateful for the editors' loyalty and the fans' love for the series. "Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy... how could I ever forget them...".